Digital Deadline: Case Study for Tuesday, Nov. 22

For our class on Tuesday, Nov. 22, we will delve into another multimedia case study: Digital Deadline: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kirkwood Shooting.

The case is part of the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia University‘s Graduate School of Journalism. 90-day access to the case and all its multimedia features costs $5.95.

You can print out a PDF if you’d like, but take advantage of the multimedia elements, such as video and audio interviews with the main characters and links to their bios.

The case study assignment is worth 20 points. The first part, worth 10 points, is to post a brief response (250 words or less) as a comment to this blog entry addressing these two questions:

1. Does STLtoday.com owe its readers as much accurate information as it can provide in real time, even if it means stepping ahead of the police in confirming the names of the shooter and his victims? Why or why not?

2. What information should go in the next day’s Post-Dispatch newspaper?

Your response must be posted by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 21.

The second 10 points will be awarded on the basis of your contributions to the case study discussion in class.

Enjoy the case!

14 thoughts on “Digital Deadline: Case Study for Tuesday, Nov. 22

  1. 1. I absolutely think that STLtoday.com should release as much accurate information that they can provide, but when it comes to a shooting with fatalities I think that they need to be incredibly careful. Only if Janet McNichols was positive (which she only knew two of the victims) about the shooter and/or victims should they even consider breaking the names online. If they are wrong this would not only be devastating to the community but STLtoday.com and the Post-Dispatch would most likely lose a lot of their credibility (especially being so connected with Pulitzer). Without the knowledge of which of the victims are dead, releasing their information could be very upsetting to the victim’s families and I think that while they can release that people were shot and the shooter information, they should wait for some police confirmation to be sure.

    2. I think that there should be several necessary pieces of information in the newspaper the next day. First I think that McNichols’ account and a description of the situation and shooting should be in the paper, along with the information that six people are dead and the shooter is one of them, Charles Lee Thornton. I think that also because Karr’s ex-husband confirmed her death from the hospital I think that it would be acceptable to use her name (her other family members must have been informed and she is a public figure), but that the other victim’s names should not be revealed. I think that they should say that it was probable that it was three Kirkwood officials; two policemen and the shooter are dead (must confirm that the shooter is dead).

  2. 1. Given that the Post Dispatch was the only media outlet on scene of the shooting at the Kirkwood City Council meeting, they did have a responsibility to their readers to report as much accurate information as they could provide in real time. I think it was important for them to report that there was a shooting and that people were shot, but if it were my call I would argue to not name the shooter and the victims until it was confirmed. Because some of the victims died as a result of the shooting, I think the newspaper has to be cautious with their facts and make sure to not report any errors.

    2. The next day’s Post-Dispatch newspaper should contain all the confirmed information that the reporters had gathered. I think it is important to name the shooter and report that he is dead, say that six people were shot, and confirm that one of the victims was Council woman Karr and she was dead. I think it is important to quote reporter McNichols, but I think the newspaper made a good decision in having another reporter interview her and write the story so that it was a news story written by a reporter and not a first hand account of a shocked eye-witness who happened to be a news reporter.

  3. 1. With any form of journalism, there are no “take-backs” when it comes to what you post. Having said that, I think that STLtoday.com has an obligation to provide information about what happened but also needs to be careful about what content they publish. If they were to give out incorrect names of the deceased, this could be detrimental to their reputation and reliability. It is smart to release a statement or a short story on what is going on and some important information, but other than that, it is wise to wait it out and make sure the information is verified. Many online sources often get news wrong, and can usually backtrack and get the right story, but when fatalities are involved, they must tread lightly.

    2. Print is extremely different from online, given that it is usually delayed and most people have already heard the information elsewhere. In this case, the Post- Dispatch should include all of the verified information, including names. It is also a smart idea to interview McNichols, given the fact that he is a reporter and had a detailed account of the event.

  4. 1. I think that STLToday.com does owe its readers as much accurate, real-time information as possible, even if it means stepping ahead of the police. Normally, when it comes to breaking news, reporters always wait on authorities to confirm the names. But in this case, since a reporter for the Post-Dispatch was at the scene when the shooting happened, the authorities could be considered the witnesses there, since when you think about it, even authorities were not the first people to find out all of the information. However, I think that the facts that the Post-Dispatch reveals in the Web story should be dealt with as much sensitivity as possible, while still providing as much accurate information as it can. I think that before the site reveals the names, reporters should call the medical examiner’s office to verify that next-of-kin have been notified for every victim. In certain cases, they could reveal the names without question, such as the shooter, since one of the reporters went to his family’s house and they didn’t seem surprised, and Connie Carr, since Maples heard from her own cousin that Carr was dead (since Carr was a family friend of the Maples, I think this could be close enough to next-of-kin).

    2. At this point, since hypothetically it’s 10 p.m., the deadline for the early version of the print story is rapidly approaching. Because of that, I think that the Post-Dispatch should include all of the concrete, confirmed information that it knows, even if it lacks in originality from what the Web story says. A reporter’s duty is to provide its readers all of the information he or she knows, and admit to the fact that he might not know everything at that point. While this concept is more of a Web approach, I think that it should apply to the print version in this situation, because since this is such a breaking story, it will constantly have updates that make it impossible to have a completely in-depth, polished print story to run the next morning. I think the editors should maybe include a tagline at the end that encourages readers to check STLToday.com for the most updated version of the story – that way the story is transparent in the fact that the information in the story may change and that this story does currently not have all the answers. To add a little more of a distinguishing element from competitors, the paper should include quotes from McNichols, because that is a first-hand account of what happened, and no other news sources would have this resource at hand.

  5. 1. I think STLtoday.com owes it to its readers and the community to give them as many updates in real time, but the staff needs to make sure it is 100% accurate when it comes to the names of the people involved. If they had released information and it was inaccurate in any way, this could be detrimental to not only the victims’ families, but also to the community. This could ruin STLtoday.com’s and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s credibility and they would most likely lose their readers.

    2. I think the next day’s paper should have a summary of the events that have happened in the last 24 hours. So many things happened over the course of the day that readers need everything that happened in one place, so they can process everything. The paper should also include a write up about what steps the courthouses and other city council meeting places are going to take to increase security. I think it would interesting if the sports writer and ex-husband of one of the victims wrote an editorial/opinion like piece.

  6. 1) I definitely think STLtoday.com owes its readers as much accurate information as it can provide in real time. However, I believe that sensitivity toward the victim’s families and friends, above all other things, should be considered before revealing any information at all. I completely agree with Natalie Posgate in that reporters should definitely call medical examiners to make sure that families of the victim’s have been 100% notified about their loss before it is communicated to the public. I think this is the most important thing, because I am from St. Louis, and my good friend’s father was actually at the city council meeting that night. There were rumors that he was shot and killed, when in fact, he was not. I just think that sensitivity is the most important issue in terms of revealing information from a legitimate news site. I also think it is okay to give the readers information as soon as possible because there actually was an authoritative source there, the reporter. As long as the reporter gives accurate information and that STLtoday.com regards sensitivity as the most important factor in revealing information, then the public has a right to know right away about the events that took place.

    2)Because this is hard news and definitely a breaking story for the St. Louis community, it is important that the Post-Dispatch includes all the legitimate information for the public to read. Everyone will want to be aware of the what happened during the shooting, and how we can prevent this situation from ever happening again. The newspaper should also include ways that the public can help and advise city council members to take preventive measures for upcoming meetings to tighten security. I think the most important thing is that the paper tells the events of what happened at the meeting. I don’t think the Post-Dispatch should stress the names of the victims, because there will already be a great deal of attention on those families. Lastly, the Post-Dispatch should advise the public to check STLtoday.com for constant updates on new information.

  7. 1. I think that STLtoday.com should only release information that is 100% accurate. They owe it to their readers to give as many updates as possible, especially because web reporting is constant, 24/7 reporting. But it could be very, very bad to release information that is not officially confirmed. If the names of the victims and the killer were confirmed (by police, aside from Janet McNichols) then even if the police hadn’t officially released the named the website could include names. But since their their main source was a reporter who was in shock from witnessing the events, they cannot print the names she gives them until they match up with the names officially given by the police.

    2. How to handle the next day paper was a little tricky. In the case, they talked about how they needed to print the story but the situation was on-going and ever-changing. I think the paper should include again all of the information that is 100% confirmed and true. They have the web edition which covers the up-to-date breaking news, so the newspaper should include more of an anecdotal story covering the event and talking about how their reporter was involved. But again they should only include facts that officials have released or confirmed, because even if things have changed, they have the website to cover breaking news.

  8. 1. In all situations involving death and shootings, no matter who is present at the scene, I believe the newspaper should wait for the police or family to release the names of the victims. It’s true that STLtoday.com had a reporter on the inside of the horrific scene, but that doesn’t give the paper the right to release names before the police and family give consent. I think it is simply a matter of respect. Of course they owe their readers as much accurate information as possible. However, accurate is the keyword in this situation. McNichols was shaken by her experience at the City Council meeting and had a personal connection with several of the victims she saw gunned down. No matter how reliable she is to STLtoday.com, she is still in a state of shock and not a completely reliable source. If McNichols was incorrect, and they released the wrong information, they would lose credibility and respect in their area.

    2. Instead of confirming the victims names, they should use McNichols’ story and experience without giving any names or specifics on who she saw shot. I think this way of reporting the story would still give Post-Dispatch an advantage by sharing their first hand account of the shooting without risking the exposure and false claims possibly involved in revealing who was shot. Facts are always important in journalism, but you can’t push the delete button on a print story. In the case of the next day’s account of events in the Post-Dispatch, accuracy is key. In addition to McNichols’ story, they should include the shooters name and who confirmed councilwoman Karr’s death. Since her ex-husband called the paper to confirm her death, this information is acceptable to release to the public.

  9. 1. I think they did have a responsibility to get the word out there about what was going on in Kirkwood. That being said they had to be absolutely sure that the information they had was accurate. They, fortunately, had an eyewitness on the scene, which allowed them to get as good a picture of what actually happened as anyone else. They had to make the public aware, because, at the time, they weren’t sure if the shooter was still at large or not. They should wait for police to notify families of the victims, but I think that the name of the shooter could be released on the web, especially after the family talked to the reporter about him. They clearly had a dedication to accuracy. One example was David Hunn who waited outside the hospital for word of any developments, and he refused to call in any of the quotes he got because accuracy was so important.

    2. I think that the newspaper for the next day should mainly fill in the gaps that can be confirmed. They knew how many were killed, they knew who the shooter was, that he was dead, and they had statements from his family and they had an eyewitness. That will keep the paper reading public informed and caught up without causing any major stirs.

  10. 1. I think yes, STLtoday.com owes its readers as much accurate information as it can provide in real time but only to a certain extent. I do not think that it is smart for them to step ahead of the police with certain information. I think that it is ok for them to release the name of the shooter because they were certain of who it was and knew he was not still at large (although they were unsure if there was more than one person). I do not think that they should release the names of his victims without police confirmation, even if McNichols had confirmed some of them. While they would be ahead of the game by releasing the names they had, I think it is very important to have police confirmation before releasing names of victims to ensure that you, the journalist, do not make a mistake. Also, by releasing names of victims before police do, you could cause stress and panic for the families of the victims. I think that Goodman and Jonsson were smart to not repeat the claim the local Fox affiliate reported. I think it would only complicate matters if STLtoday.com were to release any victim names McNichols had confirmed or heard other witnesses say.

    2. The next day’s Post-Dispatch newspaper should include the name of the shooter, his motive and background, when and where the incident happened, how many people were injured, how many fatalities there were, and that hospital officials had confirmed one of the dead to be Councilwoman Karr.

  11. STLtoday.com owes its readers as much accurate information as possible but the website should only report what it knows 100% to be true. This means that everything their eye witness said and can’t be confirmed by police or family members should not be reported. There are few things worse than reporting someone’s death inaccurately and if STLtoday.com did that their reporting as a total could be discounted. I don’t think that reporters should ever step in front of police unless they have photographic or video, or some solid evidence that confirms facts. Police do not confirm names before they are sure in the best interest of the families of the victims, and as a newspaper it is their job to respect their readers and make sure to give them information that can only be proven as true. Even in a 24/7 news cycle the most important thing as a journalist is to report the truth. If that means you are later on a story than your competitor, so be it, because truth always wins.

    The Post-Dispatch newspaper should only report what is known to be true. This means it can report what the police said in the conference, and also report Councilwoman Karr’s death. Until the police release the name of the suspect it is important to not name “Cookie” as the killer or even as the suspect. It is important to keep readers in the know, but they should only know what is confirmed as truth.

  12. I think that the paper has an ethical obligation to wait until the names have been released to the families for a certain amount of time. It is appropriate for the families to find out from the police, but not from a newspaper. Additionally, the woman reporting the shootings was a witness – which seems like a positive but in this case she witnessed something horrific. Is she really the most reliable person at that moment? While her reporting of the shooter seems accurate, she did not look at him or confirm whether or not he’d been the only shooter. It verges on unethical to report his name as well, but given that she has unofficial confirmation from the police and he is not a victim I think it would be ok to report, but to do carefully. Name him as a suspect, not the shooter. Ethical boundaries are more important than breaking news immediately. Breaking news immediately can only be effective when the information is correct.

    By the time the next day’s newspaper comes out, the full story should be able to be told. Witness accounts, background about the victims and shooter, and police testimony will all be available at that point and can be used in full. The paper would also have time to contact friends and family of the shooter, which might provide more insight into his motives. The hospital could also be contacted to confirm the status of the victims.

  13. After reading the case study and my fellow classmate’s reactions, I think it is safe to say that everyone agreed STL.com should provide readers with all information that is 100% accurate. Managing a breaking news story is very important, and if you do it wrong there can be very serious consequences. By reading all of the reactions, I think everyone agreed that in incidents involving death, only confirmed information can be released. Even though the the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had Janet McNichols as an eyewitness source, they have to provide information that is confirmed by McNichols AND authorities. McNichols did not know how many victims there were in total or for certain whether they were dead. While she did know from the police that Thornton himself had been shot, his status, too, was unclear. What to write, therefore, becomes an issue. Like my classmates said, ethical boundaries are more important that breaking the news immediately.

  14. Although we all seem to agree that reporting the facts is important, some of my classmates are less strict than I am about deciding what to print. For example, in Natalie’s reaction, she said that it was ok for their reporters to step ahead of the police because they had a woman inside the building when the shooting occurred. She said the the authorities could be considered witnesses in the situation since McNichols was inside and they were not. Even though I see Natalie’s reasoning behind this argument, I disagree. I believe that in spite of the fact that McNichols had an inside view of the shooting, she is still an unreliable source. For instance, she spent over half of the incident hiding where her view was obscured. She was also a victim, even though she wasn’t injured, because she was a witness to the invasion and was being held inside against her will. Therefore, I still believe that it is the responsibility of the police department to release the names of the victims and shooter at the appropriate time.

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